“For example, not very long ago I had a conversation with a young coloured man who is a graduate of one of the prominent universities of this country. The father of this man is comparatively ignorant, but by hard work and the exercise of common sense he has become the owner of two thousand acres of land. He owns more than a score of horses, cows, and mules and swine in large numbers, and is considered a prosperous farmer. In college the son of this farmer has studied chemistry, botany, zoölogy, surveying, and political economy. In my conversation I asked this young man how many acres his father cultivated in cotton and how many in corn. With a far-off gaze up into the heavens he answered that he did not know. When I asked him the classification of the soils on his father’s farm, he did not know. He did not know how many horses or cows his father owned nor of what breeds they were, and seemed surprised that he should be asked such questions. It never seemed to have entered his mind that on his father’s farm was the place to make his chemistry, his mathematics, and his literature penetrate and reflect itself in every acre of land, every bushel of corn, every cow, and every pig.”– Booker T. Washington, (1899) The Future of the American Negro
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
There is perhaps no better example of possessing what many in the older generation referred to as “book sense but no common sense” than what Booker T.Washington describes in the above passage. To be crystal clear, it was an admirable accomplishment for a young man hailing from a destitute background to go on to achieve an education at a “prominent university.” Yet, what the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University points out is a rather glaring omission in making his scholarship serviceable. This young man failed to apply this hard-won knowledge nor apparently think to, in his own backyard-namely-at his own father’s farm. Serviceable scholarship is that which translates theoretical abstractions of “knowledge” into practical application and dissemination in service to others beyond one’s self or esoteric guild. (Wisdom is but knowledge applied, and the wise man or woman is made wise for others.) And the clear and obvious corollary to Mr. Washington’s description of his encounter with this young man is as follows: the young man had not made his scholarship serviceable to his closest and most intimate constituent group-his farmer father who likely supported his pursuit of education. More than this, this young man-as do many similar young men and women of his ilk in both this and past generations-missed the opportunity for he, his father, his community and the surrounding region and nation to benefit. For “knowledge,” the second greatest 9-letter word, by design, should increase, reproduce and multiply. (Here again, the complete cycle of education is to first learn, apply for one’s self through repeated demonstrations of mastery and then-and only then-proceed to teach others.) This young man had not gone on teaching others at the time of his meeting Mr. Washington for he had not first applied for himself and demonstrated mastery for himself and his father-his own father who owned a fruitful farm that might have been made more fruitful with the assistance of his son’s proverbial “tree of knowledge.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.